Chicago, famously the Windy City, weathers all manner of circumstances with its can-do attitude. And the local self storage sector is there to help too, whether residents need to move to a new home, perhaps to downsize, or simply to store precious belongings in an economical manner. We asked a leading self storage provider to tell us how the industry in the city is doing right now.
Chicago’s self storage sector offers just over five square feet of storage space per resident, which is not the highest figure among the US’s largest cities but is still more than in places like New York, Los Angeles and Boston. The amount of storage space planned or under construction in the city in September 2020 was 3.3% of the total inventory, as per Yardi Matrix data, and this figure is currently stable month-over-month. Also not losing ground right now are the street rates, with non-climate-controlled units now renting for 3%-5% more than they did a year previously for a range of different sizes from 5’x5’ to 10’x20’. The average monthly street rate of a non-climate-controlled 10’x10’ unit is $103, which compares very favorably with New York and San Francisco, for example, where they cost $173 and $195, respectively.
With a gross metropolitan product that surpasses Switzerland’s total economic output, Chicago has many economic strings to its bow. The diverse economy that includes manufacturing, transportation, food processing, and financial services is now helping the unemployment rate to recover a little in challenging times. The local housing market has adapted to changing circumstances and the self storage market is well known, generally speaking, for its flexibility and resilience.
To discover exactly how the Chicago self storage sector is serving its customers’ needs at this time we spoke to Raheem Amer of Devon Self Storage, a company which has facilities across the nation but which prides itself on understanding local needs. They also have another claim to fame, as one of their facilities was used in an episode of the TV series Breaking Bad!
1: What is the self storage picture in Chicago these days and what are the challenges it is facing?
Self Storage in Chicago (and Self Storage as a whole) have seen an acceleration in rentals and deceleration in vacates. This has created record occupancies at many facilities. We have also seen an increase in demand in suburb storage markets as consumers are working from home and need to convert their 2nd and 3rd bedrooms into office space.
2: How has COVID-19 changed the way in which self storage owners operate their facilities in Chicago?
Many of the large operators had already invested in an online rental option. The operators that had this installed saw an acceleration in rentals. Operators that didn’t, experienced some slow down on rentals as leads moved from walk-in to online.
3: What in your experience are the most important extra services to offer customers?
Insurance, merchandise sales and ability to rent online.
4: What special offers and discounts have you found to be most effective for attracting customers?
In our experience…discounts don’t drive rentals. The speed of your response to an incoming lead is what sets you apart from the competition.
5: Have Chicagoans changed their self storage habits as a result of COVID-19?
Seeing demand shift to suburbs and demand for bigger units in downtown areas has accelerated.
6: If you offer vehicle storage, can you tell us anything about what sort of cars people store?
RV sales have skyrocketed across the country and we are seeing huge demand for RV parking all around our properties.
7: In your experience, what are the best ways to deal with cases where customers can no longer pay rent on a unit?
Work with customer on amnesty deals so they can continue to make payments and stay current. We have also done deals where they pay a negotiated amount and move out.
It appears the Chicago self storage sector is adapting well to changing times, using online rental processes to good effect and showing understanding to clients who are struggling to make payments. The increased business that is being done in the suburbs may indicate that residents there are seeing new advantages in self storage, perhaps using it as an overflow for their belongings if their household size has increased but getting more residential space is not currently an option. The much greater number of RVs parked at storage facilities may well be an indication that people choose this style of vacationing so they can maintain social distancing while still having a great time with their families. Self storage provides the complete package to any Chicagoan wishing to keep prized possessions near at hand, safe, and without breaking the bank. And the health of the industry should ensure that this remains a good option for them.